The Hermitage is one of the most extraordinary museums in the world. It is also one of the most overwhelming to visit. Below is a comprehensive guide with our insider tips into how to make the very most of your visit.
Why is the Hermitage so special?
The art collection was started in 1764 by Catherine the Great, and over a period of two decades she acquired several collections and expanded her own private museum. These collections were housed in a new building, attached to the Winter Palace. She named this new palace her Hermitage – meaning her sanctuary and haven – a retreat from court life.
General Staff Building, Palace Square
The museum is special because it is housed in such exquisite baroque architecture, the rooms as much a work of art as the art or artifacts on display. The views from the windows to Peter & Paul Fortress, and the Neva River are also worth visiting for!
Today the museum comprises several buildings in and around Palace Square, and the jaw dropping state of the art Hermitage storage facility, located outside the city center of St. Petersburg.
Interesting fact: Pronunciation of the museum should not be made with a French accent – but HERMITage.
What is in the Winter Palace?
There is no doubt that the Winter Palace is the architectural jewel in the crown of the entire museum. The unmistakable exterior, the imperial state rooms, the Jordan staircase & the gallery of the Napoleonic Wars. The Large Throne Room is almost 9,000 square feet in size!
The Winter palace was the hub of the imperial court, the building a baroque extravaganza that dominates the riverfront. Its architecture is best admired from the Peter & Paul Fortress.
After the Russian revolution in 1917, the entire complex of palaces facing the Neva River became a museum under the collective name The State Hermitage Museum – open to the general public for the very first time showing the Romanov collection, and the confiscated art from Russian aristocratic families.
Interesting Fact: The museum is now an elegant green, but in Imperial times, it was a striking dark red.
What are the other buildings in the Hermitage Museum?
The New Hermitage – With some of the greatest art – featuring the Italian Skylight Hall, Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy and an incredible collection of Dutch Masters, Reubens, Van Dyck and forty Rembrandts including the The Prodigal Son.
Rembrandt – Prodigal Son
The Old Hermitage – Where you will find the most valuable paintings by Da Vinci, Rafael & Caravaggio.
The Small Hermitage – The original building that housed Catherine the Great’s art collection and from which the entire complex takes its name. Home to the Pavilion Hall and the famous Peacock Clock.
The Hermitage Theater – The very last building which Catherine had built in 1787. The theater seats 150 (unallocated seating) and has performances daily.
The General Staff Building – Located across Palace Square, this incredible curved building has been completely remodelled inside to create state of the art temporary exhibition halls, and to house the permanent collection of French impressionists and Western & European art of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Interior General Staff Building
Interesting fact: The Hermitage has its own symphony orchestra that was founded in 1989.
When is the best time of year to visit the Hermitage?
The very best time of year to visit the Hermitage is October to April. At this time of year there are no cruise ship visitors, and the museum is generally much quieter.
What is the best time of day to visit the Hermitage?
In the summer months – May to September, Exeter International can arrange slightly early entrance to the museum when you have a private guide, at 09.30am (the museum opens at 10.30am).
Where is the Hermitage?
The Hermitage is located right in the centre of St. Petersburg in Palace Square which is the main square of the city. You can walk there from any of the major hotels.
When should I avoid visiting the Hermitage?
The museum is closed every Monday, and always more crowded on the first Thursday of the month when it is free!
I don’t need a guide, I am happy to view the art on my own
In the summer, the lines can be extremely long. As the museum is so vast we highly recommend a tour with a private guide for half a day. If you wish to return independently we suggest later on Wednesday and Friday evenings when the museum is open until 9.30pm.
How much time should I allow to visit the Hermitage?
Many people tell us that they want to spend the day in the museum. This is exhausting and not something that we would recommend. A private guided tour for half a day to start, followed by one or more other visits to specific galleries would be what we recommend. The museum facilities are limited with one main café and another smaller one.
Interesting fact: The Hermitage has an excellent bookshop and gift shop. Make sure you allow time for this at the end of your museum visit.
What are the Hermitage Gold and Diamond Treasure Galleries?
There are two special galleries within the Hermitage. The Diamond Treasure Gallery and the Gold Treasure Gallery. There are limited private tours allowed daily, lasting about 60 minutes for each gallery, with a curator that will be translated by your guide.
What is the Hermitage Storage Center?
The Hermitage only displays a fraction of everything in the collection. Exeter International can arrange a private tour of this extraordinary facility located outside the city center. The facility is the largest of its kind in the world, and displays imperial carriages, costumes, furniture and more.
What is the Winter Palace of Peter the Great?
The Winter Palace of Peter the Great is located under the Hermitage. The foundations of Peter’s original palace were found and have now been preserved, with an interesting museum around them focusing on the life of this amazing ruler who wanted Russia to look to the West, not East for inspiration.
Can you book a private tour if you are on a shore excursion?
Yes! If you would like to enjoy a private tour, and not ‘follow the umbrella’ we would be pleased to arrange private shore tours for you and can handle all aspects of your shore visa, valid for 72 hours.
After Hours Tours of the Hermitage
We can also arrange for a completely private tour of the Hermitage – after 6.00pm. This is more suited to small groups as it is a more expensive option, however one that is extremely special!
The Hermitage has 74 cats
Yes, you did read that correctly! The Hermitage has had cats since the time of Catherine the Great, they keep rats at bay and there is even an annual Hermitage cat day every year!
For more information and to book, contact one of our experts.
Call 800.633.1008 or 813.251.5355